I refuse to render a final verdict on the latest cinematic outrage from Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier until Volume Two drops its undies on April 4th. But I will say this for Volume One: It’s a mesmerizing mind game. Not for the sex. Reportedly, there is a 5.5 hour Nymphomaniac floating around somewhere with lots more good stuff. But the unrated international version presented in America still has its fair share of naked name actors, like Shia LaBeouf, who uses a penis stand-in for genital thrusting.
We find our nymphomaniac, Joe (a fully committed Charlotte Gainsbourg), beaten in an alley. A kindly older man (Stellan Skarsgård) takes Joe in and listens to her life story, with newcomer Stacy Martin playing her as a teen. The train scene in which Joe services a fully erect penis is memorable for reasons besides the obvious one. Trust me on this.
Actors play characters in various stages of Joe’s development, from Christian Slater as her dad to LaBeouf as the guy who takes her virginity. Best of all is Uma Thurman as the wife of one of Joe’s lovers. She storms into Joe’s apartment to show her children the “whoring bed” where Daddy would rather be than with them. The moment is hilarious and heartrending. Thurman is sensational, stealing the movie in a moment that cuts to the core of Von Trier’s mixed feelings about female power. Volume One pulls you up short just when you’re ready to laugh it off. That’s Von Trier for you.